A Dutch Michelangelo

A few years ago I had the chance to discover a Dutch artist with a very peculiar destiny. Almost forgotten in his country, Adriaen de Vries (1556–1626) was one of the most important European sculptors of his generation. His works were rediscovered in the Netherlands only about 15 years ago, following an exhibition organized by the Rijksmuseum. This is not as surprising as it sounds, since most of them are located abroad. Only one of his sculptures can be found in the country, a Triton exposed at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

Born in the Hague, Adriaen de Vries started his apprenticeship in his hometown, but moved to Florence already in his youth. After a few years spent working with some of the most important artists of the day, he eventually had the chance to lead one of the largest sculpture workshops in Italy. The parallel with Michelangelo is not completely unfounded; the works of De Vries can be classified as mannerist, a style inspired by the great Italian artist.

His growing reputation led to numerous invitations from abroad. The first was from Prague, where he became an official sculptor at the court of emperor Rudolf II. He worked then in Germany and later in Denmark, before returning to Prague where he eventually settled down until the end of his life. He never worked again in his native country. The Netherlands was still caught in the turmoil of the 80 years’ war, so commissions for large statues must have been nonexistent. Besides, the sober Protestant values that dominated the country did not favor sculpture at all: Dutch cities had very few public monuments, at least until the 19th century.

I had the chance to get acquainted with his works first in Prague, at the Wallenstein Palace. Albrecht von Wallenstein, one of the richest men in Europe in his age, was also a great art lover. He commissioned a full set of sculptures from Adriaen de Vries for his imposing city residence. I was later able to see another work, the Neptune Fountain, at the Frederiksborg Castle near Copenhagen. In both cases however there is a twist: the works from Prague and Frederiksborg are only copies, while the originals are at the Drottningholm Palace near Stockholm. In the 17th century, during the short period of time when Sweden was a great European power, the Swedish army occupied shortly both Prague and parts of Denmark, and they took the works with them as war trophies. I would see this as another proof of the sculptor’s popularity in his age.

The photos are from the two locations mentioned, the Wallenstein Palace in Prague and the Frederiksborg Castle near Copenhagen. The originals are still in Sweden, which owns even today the largest collection of Adriaen de Vries sculptures in the world. A small museum was dedicated to him, on the grounds of the Drottningholm Palace.


As for The Rijksmuseum sculpture, you can admire it here:



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